Going to the movies on Valentine’s Day is a tradition for many couples, old and new. Film releases in February are always marketed around the celebration, but why do we really go to the cinema on Valentine’s Day?  Is it to see a film, or is it a chance to get closer to that special someone (or perhaps to make a first move)? Come February 14th we might be too nervous or too shy to open our mouths and say how we really feel – perhaps a certain movie can say it for you?

But before you jump eagerly into the queue for the latest rom-com, you might want to pause and consider what you and your partner might take away from such a film. If you’re hoping for some of the luvvy duvvy-ness to rub off on you, that just might happen – but perhaps not in the same way you might think. The lessons we are taught in the average rom-com, both conscious and subconscious, are far from helpful when it comes to the dynamics of a real-world relationship. But, I hear you say, it’s just a movie. Yes, that’s true, except that when it comes to love we are genuinely influenced by the sort of ideas put forward in romantic movies.

The ultimate bullshit couple: Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in 'Knocked Up'.

The ultimate bullshit couple and they know it: Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in ‘Knocked Up’.

A study at Heriot Watt University (that’s a download, not a link, by the way) researched the effects of romantic comedies on our real-life attitude to relationships. 100 subjects watched the rom-com Serendipity, while another 100 watched a David Lynch film. The researchers stated that the rom-com viewers were “more likely to believe in fate and destiny”, while those exhibiting an existing fondness for rom-coms “had a stronger belief in predestined love.” Seemingly, most of us want to accept that ‘love conquers all’ – especially when we’ve been watching romantic movies. The Daily Mail dubbed it the ‘Notting Hill Effect’ (the first and last time I cite the Daily Mail).

Dr Bjarne Homles stated that “the problem is that while most of us know that the idea of a perfect relationship is unrealistic, some of us are still more influenced by media portrayals that we realise.” In short, rom-coms can give us unrealistic expectations in love, reducing complicated and subjective notions such as ‘the one’ or ‘love at first sight’ to cliché scenes and conveying complex romantic situations and emotions as black and white. Even if characters spend half the movie moaning about how it would NEVER work between them, there is always that starry-eyed epiphany in which they realise they are ‘meant’ to be with each other. Rom-coms introduce two people who are so completely incompatible and create a fictional, unrealistic scenario in which they are brought together by ‘fate’ or whatever you want to call it. Real love blossoms out of communication, understanding and affection amongst other things – not romantic destiny.

Due in part to the kind of behaviour exhibited in rom-coms, many of us likely associate love to a certain extent with crazy, and the idea that such behaviour somehow makes things more romantic. Even film titles use the word: Crazy, Stupid, Love and Like Crazy. Being crazy isn’t romantic or passionate – it’s desperate, and a bit weird. How many of you have thought about mimicking a grand romantic gesture you’ve seen in a film? Not only is this almost certainly a bad idea but you could also land yourself in jail, or worse:

 

I once seriously debated re-enacting the scene from Love Actually in which Andrew Lincoln’s character turns up at Keira Knightley’s door with huge cue cards to declare his love to her silently while her husband is upstairs. Would it have worked? No. But a little part of me still wishes I’d done it. I blame rom-coms.